A necessary but insufficient condition of a French recovery
While the return from holidays appeared already sufficiently fraught with difficulties with an increasingly dangerous geopolitical situation, an anaemic economic environment and a problematic budgetary outlook, actors of the recent French political crisis are, once again, blaming “Europe” for France’s incapacity to reform.
Be it the speech of President Hollande in front of the French Ambassadors, the pronouncements of various leaders of the majority (?) including the buffoonery of Arnaud de Montebourg as well as the address of François Fillon to his supporters, all point to the absolute necessity of reforming the European Union, calling for greater solidarity among its 28 Members and proclaiming their indefectible attachment to the European cause. All consider that, in parallel to the efforts that France itself must undertake, EU reform is the sine qua non precondition to French recovery. There ends the apparent consensus!
Indeed, Hollande and Fillon both insist on the necessity of a more equitable burden sharing of France’s defence outlays, in particular the cost of its overseas military interventions, and the need for greater involvement of all Member States. This key matter, which is closely related to the implementation of a European common foreign policy, implies, by construction, further considerable transfers of sovereignty in these emblematic areas of current national prerogatives. As long as these “demands” for reform fail to include concrete proposals – for example the transfer of the French seat on the Security Council to the EU and an appropriate architecture ensuring that participating Member States are bound collectively by the decisions of the responsible authorities – the appeals, however coherent they may appear, will remain unheeded and will be used as an excuse for postponing the structural reforms the country needs.
The same applies to the economy: reorienting Union policies concerning investments, research, innovation or calling for more growth and employment friendly measures has no sense – at either Union or EMU level – unless the necessary financial resources are provided. This implies, again by construction, the mutualisation of financing common resources (budget) as a precondition to issuing mutualised debt (Eurobonds) and thus completing at last the full scope of EMU with its own additional transfers of sovereignty. As is the case in the areas of defence and foreign affairs, it will require that participants accept the decisions taken by the authorities charged with the execution of programs decided in common. If one fails to recognise the “federalist” character of the solidarity that is requested and of which President Holland is the self appointed champion, then these “demands” will remain pure wishful thinking without the slightest hope of leading to concrete reforms.
One should take heart from the fact that all these appeals for reform, whether voiced by the political majority or opposition, are all calling implicitly for “more Europe”! Unfortunately, in the face of this evidence, public opinion has become increasingly wary of a “Europe” that is more often than not branded by its own leaders as the cause of any difficulty encountered at home. It is, therefore, far from certain that the political class will retain sufficient credibility to make its new “credo” acceptable to citizens that are succumbing increasingly to the deadly sirens of national-populist propaganda.
A pre-condition needed to reform successfully the EU is to achieve within France a consensus on the objectives by creating an irreversible cleavage between those who defend the future of France within a reformed Union and those who promote a return to full national sovereignty. If, as a result of the recent political crisis, the French government has clarified its economic orientation, the controversy is still far from resolved within the socialist parliamentary majority between those advocating supply side policies and those favouring economic stimulation through greater demand. Within the right wing opposition, a well entrenched cleavage remains between pro-Europeans and diehard nationalists. In the end, unless it is capable of overcoming its internal cross party contradictions, it is highly unlikely that France will be able to weigh very heavily in the concert of European Member States and spearhead the reforms that are needed.
A further and perhaps more difficult condition is to accept that within a reformed and democratic Europe, the future influence of France is not defined by the self assessment of its importance but rather by its actual contribution to the whole (around 13% of the population), adjusted to take into account the specific important contributions the country can bring to bear in the political, economic, scientific, cultural and human fields that its long and prestigious history confer upon it.
Brussels, 29th August 2014
Paul N. Goldschmidt
Director, European Commission (ret.); Member of the Steering Committee of the Thomas More Institute.
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